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Canadian pancreatic cancer research team provides personalized medicine, new hope to patients

March 06, 2018


(From top left to bottom right: Drs. Daniel Renouf, Jennifer Knox, Steven Gallinger, George Zogopoulos, David Schaeffer,, and Oliver Bathe). 

VANCOUVER – Canadian pancreatic cancer researchers are joining forces under a Terry Fox initiative bringing new hope for patients with this deadly disease.

“For many years it’s been hopeless from a patient perspective, and we are hoping to help shift this,” says Dr. Daniel Renouf (BC Cancer, University of British Columbia) who, along with Dr. David Schaeffer (UBC, Vancouver General Hospital), is leading a $5-million pan-Canadian, precision medicine initiative recently funded by the Terry Fox Research Institute.

A lack of early detection tests. Few known symptoms. Very limited treatment options. No known biomarkers that can be used to direct therapy.  These are among the clinical challenges team EPPIC, short for Enhanced Pancreatic Cancer Profiling for Individualized Care, is tackling over the next five years to improve personalized treatments for patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), a disease with just a nine per cent five-year survival rate.

“Our project focuses on metastatic cancer versus surgically resectable primary tumours, because this is the clinical problem we see most often,” says Dr. Schaeffer, noting a priority is to discern if the metastatic and primary tumour differ in their genetic make-up. Four out of five patients have metastatic cancer at the time of diagnosis and most will succumb within a year.

Patients are very keen to participate in the research study. “My push is to keep the support coming for the research, and to bring hope to other pancreatic cancer patients. This is a disease that needs more hope,” says Susan Stewart, 57, a North Vancouver resident who was diagnosed with Stage IV terminal pancreatic cancer in January 2017. She was enrolled immediately in EPPIC as well as a clinical trial where she received an experimental therapy. Although it is early days yet, her results today are promising.  Her pancreatic cancer tumour is no longer visible on CT scans, and the metastatic cancer on her liver has shrunk considerably. Her doctors are using the EPPIC results to try and understand why her tumour has had such an incredible response to the experimental treatment.

The EPPIC team aims to sequence metastatic pancreatic tumours of 400 patients in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.  They hope to improve understanding of pancreatic cancer biology to individualize treatment strategies, and to facilitate the development of new treatment options. 

This project is currently under way in Toronto and Vancouver, through two clinical trials (COMPASS and PanGen), and will be expanded shortly to include eligible patients in Kingston, Ottawa, Calgary, and Edmonton. The Montreal site opens this week. Genomic sequencing and bioinformatics analyses of patient tumours will be conducted at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and the BC Cancer Genome Sciences Centre.

The team will also store and analyze the genomic and clinical data collected in a knowledge bank that will be shared by Canadian and international researchers seeking ways to improve treatment.  The bank will be the first of its kind in Canada.

Dr. Victor Ling, TFRI president and scientific director, is thrilled TFRI is funding this high-calibre precision medicine team to tackle such a hard-to-treat cancer. “Pancreatic cancer research has been historically underfunded, and we are very excited to be expanding such a successful personalized medicine project to patients across Canada.  We hope precision medicine may hold the key to finding better treatments for this incurable disease.”

EPPIC’s multidisciplinary team comprises clinicians and scientists from BC Cancer, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, University of Alberta, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network, OICR, McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and the Research Institute of MUHC, Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, Queen’s University and the Ottawa Hospital.

In addition to Drs. Renouf and Schaeffer, other principal investigators of EPPIC and the COMPASS and PanGen trials are: Dr. Jennifer Knox and Steven Gallinger (Princess Margaret Cancer Centre/UHN/ OICR), Dr. George Zogopoulos (MUHC/Research Institute of MUHC/McGill University), and Dr. Oliver Bathe (Tom Baker Cancer Center, University of Calgary). Many of the team’s investigators are members of PancOne™, an initiative of Pancreatic Cancer Canada (PCC).

TFRI’s investment in EPPIC also builds on funding from BC Cancer Foundation, OICR, Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, PCC and VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation.

Read the story from McGill University Health Centre here

Patient Eligibility

EPPIC is for patients with advanced pancreas adenocarcinoma who have not yet started their first-line chemotherapy. Their oncologist can potentially access the trials by contacting the groups directly. The trial information can be found online by their oncologist at: 

COMPASS trial: https://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02750657?term=02750657&rank=1  

PANGEN trial:  https://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02869802?term=02869802&rank=1

About The Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI)

Launched in October 2007, The Terry Fox Research Institute is the brainchild of The Terry Fox Foundation and today functions as its research arm. TFRI seeks to improve significantly the outcomes of cancer research for the patient through a highly collaborative, team-oriented, milestone-based approach to research that will enable discoveries to translate quickly into practical solutions for cancer patients worldwide. TFRI collaborates with more than 80 cancer hospitals and research organizations across Canada. TFRI headquarters are in Vancouver, B.C. For more information please visit www.tfri.ca and follow us on Twitter (@tfri_research).

Media Contacts

Kelly Curwin, 604-675-8223; 778-237-8158 (cell) kcurwin@tfri.ca


  • Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer-related death in Canada, and affects 5,500 patients a year. In Canada, cancer pancreatic rates are projected to double by 2030.

  • Eighty per cent of patients have metastatic cancer at the time of diagnosis, yet the majority of pancreatic cancer research is only done on the primary tumour.

  • In the United States, pancreatic cancer has just surpassed breast cancer in terms of fatality to become the third most common cause of cancer-related deaths.

  • EPPIC will use an “omics” approach to help advance progress in precision medicine for these patients which will include a detailed molecular analysis of their tumours. In addition, the team will examine each patient’s tumour(s) genome, transcriptome, proteome and metabolome.

  • The team hopes to identify subtypes of the disease based on the above analyses as well as predictive signatures and biomarkers to help individualize treatment, diagnose the disease earlier, and better manage treatment and treatment response.

  • Over the course of the study, the team hopes outcomes will be improved by guiding patients into specific clinical trials in real time.

  • Patients are already enrolled in two sites currently operating and these trials will be expanded to the other identified study sites:

    • The COMPASS trial operates at the Princess Margaret in Toronto and is funded by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and Pancreatic Cancer Canada (PCC) NB: Early results from this trial have been positive in demonstrating that sequencing can be performed in a clinical setting and results delivered within a clinically relevant time frame to help guide individual patient treatment.

    • The PanGen trial operates at BC Cancer in Vancouver as part of the Personalized Oncogenomics Program and has been/ is funded by BC Cancer Foundation and PCC.

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